Managing Kids Expectations at Christmas

By Tracey Dowdy

Christmas is heralded as “the most wonderful time of the year,” but if you’re the one managing the family budget, a lot of times it doesn’t feel that way. If you’re managing the budget and your children’s expectations, there’s a good chance you’re sometimes made to feel like the Grinch.

So how do you manage expectations when everywhere you turn is another ad or marketing ploy targeting your children? It’s not easy, but these tips can help.

As with so many other parenting tips, start with a conversation. Obviously, that conversation is going to look different for your three-year-old versus your 13-year-old, but being clear ahead of time can help mitigate Christmas morning meltdowns.

For toddlers who are learning to share, explain that while they might like an infinite number of gifts, if they had them all, there wouldn’t be enough for all the other children. Use this as another teachable moment, reinforcing what you’ve been encouraging them to learn all along. For older children, remind them there is a limit to what you can – and will – spend. Part of maturing is learning to manage money and budgets – make it a teachable moment for them (and maybe yourself) too.

For toddlers, who often have more toys than they play with, encourage a “one in, one out” rule. For every new toy they receive, find an old toy (in good condition) to donate. Again, you’re teaching them to not only think of themselves but those around them.

For older kids, sit down with them and talk about their lists. Often they’ll include electronics and upgraded tech. If the cost is unreasonable or exceeds what you’re willing and able to spend, talk about prioritizing their wish list or giving them money towards the item so they can save up for it themselves.

The key is to be the example. As the parent, you set the tone for the holidays through your attitude and expectations. If you go in anticipating a holiday worthy of a Hallmark movie, you’re likely to be disappointed and frustrated. Those kind of holidays only happen in the pages of books or on the screen. Instead, help your kids see the bigger picture – that Christmas truly is about giving, not receiving. Volunteer at a shelter, bake cookies for a shut-in or send cards and care packages to soldiers overseas. In doing so, you’ll capture the spirit of the season, and grab some of that Hallmark magic you’ve been searching for along the way.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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